Welcome Speech by Muslim Prince Ghazi

«We Understand This Visit to Be a Deliberate Gesture of Goodwill»

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AMMAN, Jordan, MAY 10, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a transcription of the welcome speech that Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammed gave to Benedict XVI when the Pope visited Jordan’s state mosque on Saturday, the first full day of the Pontiff’s weeklong pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The prince is an advisor to King Abdullah II and also the organizer of the Muslim initiative called «A Common Word,» sent by 138 Muslim scholars to Christian leaders.

The speech was in English and Arabic.

* * *

[Greeting in Arabic] Pax vobis. On the occasion of this historic visit to the Al-Hussein Bin Talal mosque here in Amman, I bid Your Holiness Pope Benedict XVI welcome in four ways.

First, as a Muslim. I bid Your Holiness welcome today as we understand this visit to be a deliberate gesture of goodwill and mutual respect from the supreme spiritual leader and pontiff of the largest denomination of the world’s largest religion to the world’s second-largest religion. Indeed, Christians and Muslims make up over 55% of the world’s population and so it is especially significant that this is only the third time in history a reigning pope has visited a mosque, the first being by Your Holiness’s much-beloved Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, to the historical remains, to the historical […] mosque in Damascus, which contains the remains of John the Baptist […] in 2001, and the second being by Your Holiness to the magnificent Blue Mosque […] in Istanbul in 2006.

The beautiful King Hussein mosque in Amman, Jordan, is Jordan’s state mosque and it was built and personally supervised by His Majesty King Abdullah II in loving honor of his late father, Jordan’s great King Hussein, may God have mercy on his soul. Thus, this is the first time in history that a pope has ever visited a new mosque; hence, we see in this visit a clear message of the necessity of interfaith harmony and mutual respect in the contemporary world, as well as concrete proof of the willingness of Your Holiness to personally take a leading role in this.

This gesture is all the more remarkable, given the fact that this visit to Jordan by Your Holiness is primarily a spiritual pilgrimage to the Christian Holy Land, and in particular to the site of the baptism of Jesus Christ […] by John the Baptist […] at Bethany beyond the Jordan, John 1:28 and John 3:26.

And yet Your Holiness has made time, in your intense and tiring schedule, tiring for a man of any age, for this visit to the King Hussein mosque, in order to honor Muslims.

I must also thank Your Holiness, for the regret you expressed after the Regensburg lecture of September 13, 2006, for the hurt caused by this lecture, to Muslims. Of course Muslims know that nothing that can be said or done in this world can harm the prophet […], who is, as his last words attested, with the highest companion […], God himself, in paradise.

But Muslims were, nevertheless, hurt because of their love for the prophet […], who is, as God says in the Holy Qu’uran, closer to the believers than their own selves. Hence, Muslims also especially appreciated the clarification by the Vatican that what was said in the Regensburg lecture did not reflect Your Holiness’s own opinion, but was rather simply a citation in an academic lecture.

It hardly needs to be said, moreover, that the prophet Mohammed […], whom Muslims love, emulate, and know as a living reality and spiritual presence, is completely and entirely different from the historical depictions of him in the West, ever since St. John of Damascus. These distorted depictions by those who either do not know Arabic or the Holy Qu’uran […] or who do not understand the historical and cultural contexts of the prophet’s life, and thus misunderstand and misconstrue the spiritual motives and intentions behind many of the prophet’s […] actions and words are unfortunately responsible for much historical and cultural tension between Christians and Muslims.

It is thus incumbent upon Muslims to explain the prophet’s example […] above all, with deeds of virtue, charity, and piety and goodwill, recalling that the prophet himself […] was of an exalted nature. For God says in the Holy Qu’uran, «Verily ye have in the messenger of God, a beautiful paten of conduct, for whosoever hopes in God and the last day, and remembereth God much.»

Finally, I must thank Your Holiness for many other friendly gestures and kindly actions towards Muslims, since your ascension in 2005, including graciously receiving both His Majesty King Abdullah II Bin Al-Hussein […] of Jordan in 2005, and His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Ad-Al-Haziz […] of Saudi Arabia, the custodian of the two holy places in 2008. And also especially for your warm reception of the historical or common word between us and you, open letter of October 13, 2007 by 138 leading international Muslim scholars, whose numbers continue increasing to this day.

It was as a result of this initiative, which, based on the Holy Qu’uran and the Bible, recognized the primacy of the love of God and love of the neighbor in both Christianity and Islam, that the Vatican, under Your Holiness’s personal guidance, held the first seminar of the international Muslim-Catholic forum […] 2008.

We will shortly be following up […] with the very able Cardinal Tauran, the work initiated by this meeting, but for now I would like to cite and echo your words from the speech Your Holiness gave on the occasion of the end of the first seminar, and I quote, «The theme which you have chosen for your meeting, Love of God, Love of the Neighbor, the Dignity of the Human Person, and Mutual Respect, is particularly significant. It was taken from the open letter, which presents love of God and love of the neighbor as the heart of Islam and Christianity alike. This theme highlights even more clearly the theological and spiritual foundations of a central teaching of our respective religions. I am well aware that Muslims and Christians have different approaches in matters regarding God, yet we can and must be worshippers of the one God, who created us and is concerned about each person in every corner of the world. There is a great and vast field in which we can act together, in defending and promoting the moral values which are part of our common heritage» end quote.

Now I cannot but help remember God’s words in the Holy Qu’uran, […] «yet they are not all alike.» Some of the people of the Scripture are a community upright, who recite God’s verses in the watches of the night, prostrating themselves. They believe in God and in the last day, enjoining decency and forbidding indecency, vying with one another in good works. Those are of the righteous, and whatever good they do, they shall not be denied it, and God knows the God-fearing. And also God’s words, «and you will find, and you will truly find, the nearest of them to those who believe, to be those who say, verily we are Christians. That is because some of them are priests, and monks. And because they are not proud […]

Second, as a Hashemite, and a descendant of the prophet Muhammed […] I also bid Your Holiness welcome to this mosque in Jordan remembering that the prophet […] welcomed his Christian neighbors […] to Medina, and invited them to pray in his own mosque, which they did in harmony, without either side compromising their own spiritual beliefs. This too is an invaluable lesson which the world desperately needs to remember.

Third, as an Arab, and a direct descendant of Ishmael Ali-Salaam […], of whom the Bible says God would make a great nation, Genesis 21:18, and that God was with him, Genesis 21:20. I bid Your Holiness welcome.

One of the cardinal virtues of the Arabs, who traditionally have survived in some of the hottest and most inhospitable climates in the world, is hospitality. Hospitality is born of generosity, and it recognizes the needs of the neighbor and considers those who are far, or who come from far, as neighbors, and indeed this virtue is confirmed by God in the
Holy Qu’uran with the words, «And worship God, and associate man […] with him, be kind to parents, and near kindred, and to orphans, and to the needy, and to the neighbor who is far and to the neighbor who is near, and to the neighbor who is a stranger, and to the friend at your side. And to the wayfarer, and to what your right hands […] possess, surely God loves not the conceited and the boastful. Chapter […] 4,36.

Arab hospitality means not only loving to give and help, but also being generous of spirit, and thus appreciative. In 2000, during the late Pope John Paul II’s visit to Jordan, I was working with the Jordanian tribes, and some of the tribesmen were saying that they really liked the late Pope. Someone asked them, «Why do you like him?» since he was a Christian and they were Muslims. They smiled and said, «Because he visited us.» And of course, the late Pope John Paul II, like yourself, Holiness, could have easily gone to Israel and Palestine, but instead chose to start his pilgrimage with a visit to us here in Jordan, which we appreciate.

Fourth and finally, as a Jordanian, I bid Your Holiness welcome. In Jordan, everyone is equal before the law, regardless of religion, race, origin or gender, and those who work in the government are responsible to do their utmost to care for everyone in the country with compassion and with justice. This was the personal example and message of the late King Hussein, who over his long reign of 47 years, felt for everyone in the country as he did for his own children. It is also the message of his son, His Majesty King Abdullah II, who accordingly has made it the singular goal of his life and reign, to make the life of every Jordanian and indeed every person in the world that he can reach, as decent, dignified, and happy as he possibly can, with Jordan’s meager resources.

Today, Christians in Jordan enjoy, by law, 8% of the seats in Parliament and similar quotas at every level of government and society, even though their numbers are less than that in actual fact. In addition to their own personal status laws and church courts, their holy sites, and their legal educational institutions and other needs are safeguarded by the state. And Your Holiness has just seen this in person, at the new Catholic university of Madaba, and will, God willing, soon see the new Catholic cathedral and the new Melkite church at the baptism site. And so Christians prosper today in Jordan, as they have for the last 2,000 years, in peace and harmony, and with good will and genuine brotherly relations between them and their Muslim neighbors. This is, in part of course, because Christians used to be more numerous in Jordan percentagewise than they are today, but declining Christian birthrates and conversely, high levels of education and prosperity which have led to their being in demand as immigrants to the West, have reduced their numbers. It is also, however, due to the fact that Jordan appreciates that Christians were in Jordan 600 years before Muslims. Indeed, Jordanian Christians are perhaps the oldest Christian community in the world, and the majority have always been Orthodox, adherence to the Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem in the Holy Land, which, as Your Holiness knows better than I, is the church of St. James, and was founded during Jesus’ own lifetime […].

Many of them are descended from the ancient Arab […] tribes, and they have, throughout history, shared the fate and struggles of their fellow Muslim tribesman. Indeed, in 630, during the prophet’s own lifetime, they joined the prophet’s own army, led by his adopted son, […] and his cousin […] and fought against the Byzantine army of their fellow orthodox, at the battle of Mechtar […]. It is because of this battle, that they earned their tribal name […], which means «the reinforcements,» and Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal himself comes from these tribes.

Then, in 1099, they were slaughtered by Catholic crusaders, at the fall of Jerusalem alongside their Muslim comrades. Later from 1916 to 1918, during the Great Arab revolt, they fought against Muslim Turks, alongside Arab-Muslim comrades. They thereafter languished for a few decades, along with their Muslim fellows, under a Protestant colonial mandate, and in the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948, 1967, and 1968, they fought with their Muslim-Arab comrades against Jewish opponents.

Christian Jordanians have always not only defended Jordan but have also tirelessly and patriotically helped to build Jordan, playing leading roles in the fields of education, health, commerce, tourism, agriculture, science, culture, and many other fields. All this is to say, then, that whilst Your Holiness may believe them to be your fellow Christians, we know them to be our fellow Jordanians. And they are as much a part of this country as the land itself. We hope that this unique Jordanian spirit of interfaith harmony, benevolence and mutual respect, will serve as an example to the whole world, and Your Holiness will carry it to places like Mindenau and certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where Muslim minorities are hard-pressed by Christian majorities, as well as to other places, where the opposite is the case.

Now, just as we welcome Your Holiness today in four ways, we receive Your Holiness today in four ways.

First, we receive Your Holiness as the spiritual leader, Supreme Pontiff, and Successor of St. Peter, for 1.1 billion Catholics, who are neighbors of Muslims everywhere, and who we greet through receiving you.

Second, we receive Your Holiness as Pope Benedict XVI, in particular whose reign has been marked by the moral courage to do and speak his conscience, no matter what the vogue of the day, who is personally also a master Christian theologian, responsible for historical encyclical letters on the beautiful cardinal virtues of charity and hope, who has refacilitated the traditional Latin Mass for those who choose it, and who has simultaneously made intrafaith and interfaith dialogue a top priority of his reign, in order to spread goodwill and understanding throughout all peoples of the world.

Third, we receive Your Holiness as a Head of State, who is also a world and global leader on the vital issues of morality, ethics, the environment, peace, human dignity, the alleviation of poverty and suffering, and even the global financial crisis.

Fourth and finally, we receive Your Holiness as a simple pilgrim of peace who comes in humility and gentleness to pray where Jesus Christ the Messiah […], may peace be upon him, was baptized and began his mission 2,000 years ago.

So, welcome to Jordan, Your Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. God says in the Holy Qu’uran to the prophet Muhammed …. «Glory be to your Lord, the Lord of might,» above what they allege, «and peace be to the messengers, and praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds.» […] [Transcription by Vatican Radio]

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